About Us

Situated in Makhanda (Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) is an internationally recognised centre for the study of aquatic biodiversity. (Find us here.)

As a National Facility of the NRF SAIAB serves as a major scientific resource for knowledge and understanding the biodiversity and functioning of globally significant aquatic ecosystems. With both marine and freshwater biogeographical boundaries, southern Africa is ideally placed to monitor and document climate change.

From a marine perspective South Africa forms the southern apex of a major continental mass, flanked by very different marine ecosystems on the east and west coasts, and projecting towards the cold southern Ocean large marine ecosystem. SAIAB’s scientific leadership and expertise in freshwater aquatic biodiversity is vital to the national interest when dealing with issues arising from exponentially increasing pressures of human population growth and development.

Brochures/leaflets about SAIAB Platforms and activities



SAIAB’s science focuses on the full spectrum of aquatic environments: from marine offshore to continental freshwater catchments. Research covers ecology and conservation biology that links biodiversity at molecular and organism levels with the environment and genetic and species diversity.

Conservation Biology & Ecology (CBE) focuses on understanding the processes underpinning aquatic biodiversity in order to inform the conservation of those resources. 

Molecular Biology & Systematics
 (MBS) focuses on the exploration and description of southern African aquatic biodiversity from a molecular to a faunal level.


SAIAB runs the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) and hosts the Elwandle Node (coastal and inshore areas) of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).  

ACEP forms South Africa’s key-in-kind, co-funding contribution to ASCLME. ACEP undertakes the majority of Agulhas current research and provides cruise co-ordination for the entire programme.


Special purpose laboratories
SAIAB has a number of special purpose laboratories which are available to internal and external research scientists and students.

 • A molecular preparation laboratory.
 • X-ray laboratory with a digital X-Ray inspection system.
 • A custom-made aquatic ecophysiology laboratory.

Collection facilities 
SAIAB is the recognised leader in wet collection management and curation in South Africa: 
The JLB Smith Collection Management Centre includes a collection sorting laboratory, accommodation for collection staff and for visiting scientists and students.

Wet Collections Storage Facility
The facility Includes specimen preservation laboratories, glass store, bulk alcohol store, dermestarium, tissue preparation laboratory, and storage for the

 • National Fish Collection .
 • SAIAB African Amphibian Collection
 • Aquatic Biodiversity Tissue Bank
 • National Diatom Collection

Margaret Smith Library

This modern library houses one of the largest document collections and resource centres for African aquatic biodiversity research in Africa. The Library includes facilities for seminars, computer stations and archive stores.

Science Advancement at SAIAB includes a range of activities to encourage a culture of scientific enquiry and environmental awareness among people of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions.